The Cardinal Nation April Reliever of Month

Springfield's Justin Wright is our choice as the top relief pitcher across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system last month.

As many years as I have been selecting monthly Pitcher of the Award winners for the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, I am pretty sure I have never given the recognition to a relief pitcher. There are always at least a few starting pitchers with exceptional results, and often many. By the definition of their job, those in the rotation have a leg up.

Often, I gave bullpenners a paragraph or two of honorable mention, but that really is not enough. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that The Cardinal Nation has added a monthly top reliever award for 2014, as well.

Let's start with the numbers. I narrowed down a list of 33 relief pitchers across four levels to just seven individuals. They each pitched at least 10 innings and logged an ERA under 2.00.

Justin Wright Spr 11.2 0.77 0.804 1 1 6 0
Chris Thomas Peo 10.0 0.90 1.000 2 1 7 0
Joe Donofrio Spr 12.2 1.42 0.984 5 2 10 0
Robert Stock PB 18.1 1.47 1.547 4 3 11 0
Zach Loraine Peo 11.2 1.54 1.071 2 2 10 1
David Aardsma Mem 11.2 1.54 1.071 2 2 7 0
Kyle Barraclough Peo 10.1 1.74 1.089 2 2 5 0


Reliever Tm K BB SV HD BS W L
Justin Wright Spr 13 3 0 4 0 1 0
Chris Thomas Peo 13 3 3 0 0 1 0
Joe Donofrio Spr 19 2 1 4 1 0 0
Robert Stock PB 10 17 1 2 0 0 0
Zach Loraine Peo 10 2 2 0 0 1 0
David Aardsma Mem 12 5 2 0 0 1 0
Kyle Barraclough Peo 11 6 2 2 0 0 0

We can eliminate several candidates. Peoria's Joe Donofrio has extremely strong strikeout and walk totals, tied for the system lead in holds, but also had a blown save and had to work around three unearned runs. Palm Beach's Robert Stock is living extremely dangerously, with the highest walk rate in the entire system at 8.3 per nine innings.


Zach Loraine, David Aardsma and Kyle Barraclough all had solid months, but in reality, they don't quite stack up to Springfield left-hander Justin Wright and Peoria right-hander Chris Thomas.

Both Wright and Thomas logged ERAs and WHIPs at 1.00 or less. With three saves, Thomas was second in the system to the five collected by Springfield's Dean Kiekhefer (6.10 ERA). Wright counters with four holds, tied with Donofrio for the organizational lead.

The two have the exact same strikeout, walk and earned run totals, though Wright allowed one less hit in 1 2/3 innings more. Therefore, his ERA and WHIP are slightly lower. An unearned run also scored while Thomas was pitching.

In a close call, Justin Wright is the first recipient of The Cardinal Nation's Relief Pitcher of the Month, our winner for April 2014.

Other honorable mentions

Reliever Tm K/9 ERA BB/9
Sam Tuivailala PB 15.1 3.97 7.1
Dixon Llorens PB 14.2 2.70 6.8
Joe Donofrio Spr 13.5 1.42 1.4
Chris Thomas Peo 11.7 0.90 2.7
Chris Perry Peo 10.7 4.50 4.5
Sam Freeman Mem 10.5 4.61 3.3
Kevin Herget Peo 10.2 5.84 7.3
Justin Wright Spr 10.0 0.77 2.3

As the above table indicates, there were eight relievers with at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings last month. ERAs and walk rates are listed to help with context.

At the top of the strikeout rate list are the Palm Beach duo of Sam Tuivailala and Dixon Llorens. While their ERAs were OK, their walk rates were not. They are the third and fourth highest in the entire system, indicating more work is required. Peoria's Kevin Herget is another strikeout artist who needs to cut down on his free passes.

Reliever Tm BB/9 ERA
Jorge Rondon Mem 0.0 3.48
Dean Kiekhefer Spr 0.9 6.10
Corey Baker PB 1.3 2.53
Joe Donofrio Spr 1.4 1.42
Zach Loraine Peo 1.5 1.54

In terms of those issuing the fewest walks, Memphis' Jorge Rondon is on top. The right-hander issued none in 10 1/3 April innings. As noted above, Kiekhefer had five saves, but his rough ERA was clearly not due to free passes. The lefty walked just one batter in 10 1/3 frames.

2014 monthly award winners

  Starter of Month Pitcher of Month Reliever of Month  
2014 The Cardinal Nation Cards organization The Cardinal Nation 2014
April  Nick Petree   Justin Wright April 
May       May
June       June
July       July
Aug       Aug
  Player of Month      
2014 The Cardinal Nation Cards organization   2014
April  James Ramsey     April 
May       May
June       June
July       July
Aug       Aug

Coming soon

The Cardinals organization's own selection for top pitcher and player will be announced any day now. In addition, our first monthly update to the Cardinals top 40 prospect rankings is coming on Monday, exclusively for TCN subscribers.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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